October 18, 2009

Looking for fortune

I am preparing a "CQ" (Cultural Quotient) column for the next issue of The Roman Forum magazine and I clicked on their website only to find an old travel article of mine on the front page!

So, if you live in Rome and are looking for a great day trip, CLICK HERE for an article on the town of Palestrina (and its goddess of fortune).

a domani,

October 15, 2009

Cultural Awareness in the Workplace

A photo from yesterday's presentation at the US embassy in Rome -- Survive to Thrive: Cultural Awareness in the Workplace. It was a mixed group of new arrivals, spouses, diplomats and embassy staff (even a few Italians) and everyone was quite engaged and surprised at how much they got out of the hour.

So, I am figuring out how to make and upload a recording so that I can share the text with all of you too. Anyone want to help me crack the podcast nut?

a domani,

October 8, 2009

Conditionally absolute

Berlusconi's lawyer is in the news for an interesting argument he slipped into his client's defense: "The law is equal for all, but not always its application."

The idea of rules and their particular application regularly comes up in cross-cultural communications. On one end of the spectrum lies "universalism" or the zero-tolerance concept of rules ( click here for a recent Time magazine article) in which there are certain absolutes that apply across the board, regardless of circumstances or the particular situation. What is right is always right and you should try to apply the same rules to everyone in like situations. To be fair is to treat everyone alike and not make exceptions for members of your "ingroup".

While life isn't necessarily fair, you can make it more fair by treating everyone the same.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, "particularism", in which how you behave in a given situation depends on the circumstances, there are no absolutes. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. You treat your ingroup members the best you can and you let the rest of the world take care of itself (their ingroups will take care of them).

To be fair is to treat everyone as unique. No one expects life to be fair.

To each his own cultural orientation.

a domani,

PS. I used the descriptions of universalism and particularism from the book:Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide by Craig Storti.

October 7, 2009

More or less

Sorry I've been gone so long. Just got a bit too unplugged this summer. But I'm officially back with a good story and a question.

Last Friday my husband and I participated in a special anniversary event organized by the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato (national train company) to celebrate the 170 years of its first train from Naples to Portici. The participants met at the Rome termini, took the new superfast train to Naples followed by a short ride to the Pietrarsa train museum for a guided tour and dinner before returning to Rome.

The museum was fantastic, a little jewel overlooking the bay of Naples -- complete with a working steam-engine train! The dinner for 600 was catered in the one of the old padiglioni (warehouse spaces) among over 40 historic trains -- a sit-down affair with three glass and three fork settings around white-clothed tables of 12. The mandatory speeches by the autorità came before, lots of traditional music and dancing during and fireworks with a brindisi finished off the evening.

The organizer (and friend of my husband) was duly frazzled as she made sure that the various authorities and VIPS were properly seated at the first eight tables. She confided that about 100 confirmed people had not shown up and another 100 had come with same day confirmations (many of whom needed to be seated with their VIP peers). She simply shrugged, "At least the numbers balance out for the caterers" and after discretely and efficiently shifting places around, everyone had a proper seat. In the shuffle and in true Zelig style, we ended up filling out one of the reserved tables (but that is another story).

A memory bell went off from my event organizing days in Rome. Somehow back then I always magically hit my numbers for restaurants or caterers, but NEVER with the same people who had originally confirmed. 10-15% didn't show and another 10-15% just showed up. When I finally figured this out, I let go of all the worry and learned to count on the universe to take care of the final numbers.

and it always worked!

So why is it that the American organizations here in Rome keep driving themselves nuts by insisting on non-refundable reservations. How many times would I have just shown up at an event at the last minute to magically take the place of a last minute no-show. Things happen and then you are suddenly free to attend, or suddenly not.

How simple it all could be if we could reach an Italian comfort level with just letting things happen as they will.

a presto (I promise)